On this American Independence Day, there will be a lot of discussion about where America stands as a nation. It’s a nation divided. Opposing sides aren’t just bickering with each other, they’re refusing to acknowledge that each side has valid concerns and ideals. If it was a marriage, their poor communication and refusal to go to counselling would doom the relationship.
I lean more toward the Liberal, or Democrat side of things but not to a fault. Sometimes, the push toward a more inclusive present and future goes too far and attempts to rewrite history. If it’s not the truth, it’s not acceptable to me.
Case in point: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name has been stripped from a major children’s literature award because of the way she wrote about African Americans and Native Americans.The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Wilder was the award’s first recipient in 1954. It honours writers who have a big impact on children’s literature, which Wilder did. I abhor racism in any form against anyone. And I understand that some Native American groups called for this revision of history and are celebrating it. But where does it end?
Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie series about her own family’s life on the plains in the 19th century. Her accounts were factual for the time. That time has passed. This time is better. But that doesn’t change how things were. Some of the writing in her books has already been changed. Why punish her memory for the era in which she lived?
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association released a statement defending her work. It acknowledged that her writing involved “the perspectives of racism that were representative of her time and place,” but that it also made “positive contributions to children’s literature”:
So what’s next? Boycott Melissa Gilbert because she played Ingalls on TV?
Those in favour of this move will describe my criticism as backlash. It is not. I’m fully, completely behind erasing racism in any and all situations except for those that are historical and offer a teaching moment. Laura Ingalls Wilder wasn’t a racist in a world of accepting and tolerant people. She was a journalist whose work chronicled the attitudes and biases of those around her. If anything, her writing shows us how far we’ve come.
I wasn’t taught about actual Native Canadian history in school. Our teachers led us to believe that North America was “discovered” by white men. Only through living and self-education did we find out how wrong that version of events was. So, rewrite the text books. Remove racism from schools. But don’t punish a beloved artist posthumously because she told it like it was.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana